Turkey’s opposition in rare election solidarity
Fifteen members of parliament resigned from the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on April 22, under the order of CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in order to join the center-right İYİ (Good) Party.
CHP spokesman Engin Altaylı said in a press conference that the aim was to stop President Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) from blocking the newly founded İYİ Party from taking part in the June 24 snap polls.
The move came after a meeting between Kılıçdaroğlu and İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener on April 21 about possible strategies for the early election. The snap election was announced by Erdoğan on April 18 after a suggestion by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli the day before.
According to the constitution there are certain requirements for new parties to enter their first election. Those include including having a minimum number of provincial organizations across the country and a certain amount of time having passed since the party’s establishment. But these criteria do not apply for parties with a group in parliament, which requires at least 20 seats in the 550-seat parliament. By lending 15 CHP deputies to Akşener’s İYİ Party, Kılıçdaroğlu tried to make it sure that the government’s possible pressure on the Supreme Election Board (YSK) could not lead to the İYİ Party being disqualified and therefore weakening opposition against the AK Parti-MHP alliance.
Bahçeli has given strategic support to Erdoğan since the April 2017 referendum on shifting to an executive presidential system and has already declared his support for Erdoğan as presidential candidate.
The backbone of the İYİ Party is made up of MPs who split from the MHP partly due to Bahçeli’s support to Erdoğan. There are claims in the political backstage that Bahçeli would like to see the İYİ Party removed from the election race and the parliament. AK Parti spokesman Mustafa Elitaş said on April 21 that the İYİ Party is a “new party” and should try its chances in “future elections.” That statement, combined with a remark by Supreme Election Board (YSK) head Sadi Güven postponing the ruling on which parties could enter the election to later this week - when the early election proposal is to be voted on in parliament - seemingly pushed both the CHP and the İYİ Party to take a counter move.
Hours after the 15 MPs’ move, the YSK announced that the İYİ Party would be allowed to enter the snap election. AK Parti spokesman Mahir Ünal said in fury that Kılıçdaroğlu had acted “dishonorably. Bahçeli said Kılıçdaroğlu had “trashed democratic principles.” Akşener thanked Kılıçdaroğlu for helping to foil an anti-democratic trap.
The move does not necessarily mean that Kılıçdaroğlu will back Akşener’s candidacy for the presidency, which she has already declared. The CHP leader who has not announced his own candidacy yet, is still engaged in exploratory talks trying to find whether it will be possible to agree on a candidate who can attract all opposition votes and more to replace Erdoğan as president.
Not only Kılıçdaroğlu, but also Temel Karamollaoğlu of the religious conservative Felicity Party (Saadet) is also trying to convince former President Abdullah Gül, who served as prime minister and foreign minister in AK Parti governments with Erdoğan, to step forward as a candidate. Gül is known to be against the accumulation of too much executive power in the hands of the president and is supportive of the parliamentary system.
The CHP and Saadet also think Gül might be able to attract Kurdish votes: Both conservative ones that could otherwise go to Erdoğan or those who might go to the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). However, there are also reports that Gül is reluctant to challenge his long-time political teammate Erdoğan, despite the fact that the two have had discrepancies in political approaches for the last few years.
There are also backstage debates about Kılıçdaroğlu possibly supporting Akşener if the Gül option fails. But everything is still in flux and it is not easy right now to predict where it will all end up. We can at least say that Kılıçdaroğlu’s move to lend MPs to another opposition party in order to save it from government maneuvers is a rare demonstration of solidarity in Turkish politics. It also shows the CHP’s determination to not give up the race so easily.